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​The Internal Audit Game

Computer-based learning games are becoming an effective and interactive way to prepare auditors to perform winning audits.

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​Having changed the way people work, digital technology is changing how they learn, as well. For internal auditors, the need to adapt is particularly important as their work has become more interconnected and process-oriented. Auditors must constantly improve through more tailored learning that enables them to choose their own learning path and speed.

That’s why some internal audit functions are getting serious about business games. While computer games have long been a fixture for consumers, recently developers have begun tailoring computer-based games for professional development in specific industries and professions. Game-based learning ranges from simple learning games to simulations.

These games transfer complex learning content into an easily consumable simulation model. Moreover, they can enable internal auditors to convert their existing theoretical knowledge into practical skills. They even provide some competition (see “The Swiss Audit Championship,” below).

The Swiss Audit Championship


In October 2019, more than 100 auditors participated in the Swiss Audit Championship, hosted by IIA–Switzerland and the Audit Research Center | ARC Institute at the Technopark Zurich. During the live business game convention, auditors trained interactively with the guidance of the business game MARS.

Participants competed virtually as individual players or in groups of three. The goal of the game was to found a new civilization on Mars. To build their own colony, they had to answer competence questions and use their audit skills wisely. In the process, participants developed skills in strategic audit development, audit engagement management, interview techniques, report writing, and other areas. Auditors acquired new knowledge through challenges, in competition with other participants.

After the event, participants discussed their experiences and what they learned from the game. Their feedback included: 

What did you enjoy most about the Swiss Audit Championship event?

  • The ambiance during the event, the feeling of competition embedded in the game, as well as the team play fostered by the business game. 
  • It was something new and therefore very exciting. Especially seeing my own rank after each turn in the serious business game, which motivated me to give my best. Learning in gaming format: the link between fun and learning. 
  • The opportunity to meet and compete with peers using a fun and innovative learning approach. The event also provided useful insights about the impact of digital on the future of internal audit. 

What did you think was the best effect of the game? 

  • Learning with fun. Sometimes it can be challenging to train after work. With such a tool, it is easier and distracting in a good way. The most difficult part is the question creation.
  • Time went by incredibly fast. Before you know it, you’ve learned something again. 
  • Gamified training helps to increase your productivity and motivation by encouraging you to be goal-oriented and invested in the outcomes of the game.


What is your overall impression of the game-based training event?

  • I found the concept of game-based learning tailored to my profession really engaging, and I enj-oyed the experience.
  • The game was exciting! I’m convinced gamification is a good thing to learn. The technical briefing in advance is important to get ready to train. 
  • It was an enjoyable experience, which I would recommend to existing team members as well as to new internal audit joiners — for example, as a team building exercise. The game brings freshness to the repetitive corporate e-learning format. 

Learning Games

Computer-based educational games are based on the idea that a close connection between learning and digital game content can support knowledge and skill development. This is done by transferring playful learning processes to a virtual environment. In contrast to traditional (noncomputer-based) learning games, serious business games use motivational methods from digital entertainment media and the film industry. They encourage learning by establishing parasocial interactions and relationships between the training participant and the non-personal character in the game. How the learning environment is designed ultimately depends on factors such as the learning goal, needs, and motivation of the target group.

The learning benefit of business games is particularly high if the contexts learned in the simulated situation can be transferred and applied to the learner’s familiar environment. That is why the training or game experiences must be usable for the individual’s work reality. The learning situations experienced in business games are simplified representations of reality, although this gap may be reduced in future developments through the use of augmented reality technology (see “Action Competence Through Reflective Knowledge,” below right).

The categories of visibile learning objectives, content, and competencies that can be imparted, as well as the motivational effect, are used as distinguishing features of the individual types of business games. The prototypical characteristics of business games are clearly defined learning goals and a high degree of structuring of the learning content, which makes learning goals clearly visible to the user. The focus is on transferring knowledge (knowing that) and acquiring behavioral skills (knowing how), according to Brian Burke in Gamify.

Another priority in educational games is experiential learning through the player’s handling of learning objects in simulations. Business games offer the user the opportunity to acquire the content either independently or through cooperation or interaction within a learning and training community. This is accompanied by an intrinsic motivation to learn, since the participant is rewarded by the inherent dynamic or positive experience of the game. The strength of this form of learning is the possibility of providing audit staff with normative knowledge in the form of “knowing that,” such as the implementation of audit processes and methodologies. It also provides simulations in the form of “knowing how” for practical application.

Enhancing Decision-making

To make the right decisions in audit work, practitioners need experience they can only acquire to a limited extent through theoretical input. As a rule, this experience is gained through audit practice, by acting in everyday audit situations and gaining knowledge through correct or incorrect decisions. 

Serious business games can create a risk-free space for auditors to try out various strategies for audit situations. For training participants, this happens without having to bear possible negative consequences professionally, and they receive direct feedback about their actions and decisions during the game. Thus, games contribute to improving the planning and decision-making behavior of individuals and groups.

For example, a business game can foster a high degree of interaction among participants, while the learning loops in such training are much more direct and shorter in duration. This enables participants to learn more in less time and optimize their performance.

Interconnected Knowledge

In addition to decision-making, knowledge is a central productivity factor in today’s information society, especially in areas such as internal auditing. The nature of audit work underlines the necessity of lifelong learning. 

The changes and risk characteristics of the objects to be audited mean that audit functions are continuously learning from today’s knowledge base and its scope. To keep up, auditors must constantly update their expert and methodological knowledge. 

In addition, increases in staff turnover mean internal audit often loses the knowledge gained from audits when auditors leave the organization. Internal audit needs ways to transfer knowledge to new auditors and, if necessary, to adapt new employees’ soft skills to the needs of the organization or new business models.

Serious business games provide new ways for audit functions to develop lifelong learning of knowledge and soft skills. Moreover, during a game, participants can distribute existing knowledge and integrate new knowledge into the organization, audits, and audit processes. At the same time, these games can communicate “knowing how” to all audit staff members uniformly.

Games can be used in different ways to build knowledge:

  • Individual employee training.
  • Blended learning, in advance of a training event.
  • Integrated with on-site training by alternating methodological input with live training in the game’s simulations. Participants can discuss individual scenes in the game, allowing for direct learning.
  • Live business game conventions and competitions.
  • Specially designed business games for individual needs.


For example, in the serious business game CRYPTO, participants learn the IT security aspects of defending against social engineering risks. The gamified training combines puzzles, point-and-click exploration elements, and an interesting narrative adventure. 

The story line takes place in a biotechnology research company in London. Participants become Alex Lee, a security analyst and private detective tasked with infiltrating the company and identifying the most important security gaps. Over the course of the game, Alex must interact with the company’s unique and diverse employees. In the process, participants find, analyze, and try to exploit common security mistakes, which cyber criminals could use to access and steal confidential information. 

Training Internal Audit’s Next Generation 

The generation now entering the workforce has been moving in the digital world since childhood. Their use of web technologies is correspondingly natural and intuitive. For these digital natives, new forms of language, expression, and communication are necessary, as well as new, interconnected structures of learning and thinking (see “5 Tips for Developing Self-guided Learning,” below). It is precisely this kind of thinking that the simulations of business games promote.

In this context, organizations must develop forms that fit this new learning culture in a multimedia environment. This is a challenge that organizations, and internal audit departments in particular, must face. 

Serious business games can be a successful solution, alongside other virtual learning formats, to provide employees with adequate training and further education, as well as to transfer knowledge from current employees to new hires. In facilitating such learning, modern, game-based training can support internal auditors in driving value in their organizations.   

​5 Tips for Developing Self-guided Learning

Learning through serious business games can be an effective example of self-guided learning for internal auditors. To get the most out of training, internal audit functions should:

  1. Set individual competency goals. Set objectives for employees and managers oriented to the strategic requirements of the internal audit department, on the basis of regular competency measurements.
  2. Enable a culture of self-organized learning. Initiate processes to change the learning culture and establish learning environments with a set of innovative learning and communication tools, which promote individual and organizational learning.
  3. Independently plan and manage learning processes. Design individual learning processes on the basis of appropriate feedback, which may include planning instruments developed by the human resources department.
  4. Enable self-organized knowledge-building and qualification. Facilitate formal learning with virtual learning formats that take place on demand by the learners and use open educational resources.
  5. Integrate competence development. Use the social learning form to promote active dialogue among employees through motivational elements during the learning process.

Dominik Foerschler
Rainer Lenz
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About the Authors

 

 

Dominik FoerschlerDominik Foerschler<p>Dominik Foerschler, PhD, CIA, CRMA, is managing director of the Audit Research Center | ARC Institute in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.<br></p>https://iaonline.theiia.org/authors/Pages/Dominik-Foerschler.aspx

 

 

Rainer LenzRainer Lenz<p>​Rainer Lenz, PHD, CIA, QIAL, CIIA, is director, Corporate Audit Services, at SAF–HOLLAND SE, in Bessenbach, Germany. <br></p>https://iaonline.theiia.org/authors/Pages/Rainer-Lenz.aspx

 

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